OSU prof recognized for his forestry smarts

CORVALLIS — People recognize John Garland by his hat.

"They see me going through the airport, and they recognize me," Garland said.

Garland, 61, wore the Indiana Jones-style leather hat during his appearance on the History Channel's "Modern Marvels: Logging Tech." The show was filmed in 2003 and first aired in 2004. It has been replayed over the years and made Garland, an Oregon State University professor emeritus of forestry, something of a star.

Wearing the hat was a habit, but it became a symbol. "We were out in the woods, and it was cold, so I had my hat on."

The show tells the story of the history of the timber industry and the changes in technology that have made the business safer and more productive. "We went from steel nooses to electronic chokers," Garland said of some of the technological advances. Operating a modern harvester takes the same skill as an airplane pilot, Garland said. The show featured Oregon loggers, OSU students and film footage by Garland.

"I've made such classics as 'Skylines of the Northwest,' 'Aerial Logging Systems,' 'Soil Compaction on Forest Land,'" Garland said of his short documentaries. "I did a little film 'Synthetic Rope in Logging.'" He started filming in 16 mm, later in VHS.

A forest engineer, Garland was born on White Mountain Indian Reservation in Minnesota, but he grew up in Coos Bay in a timber family. In 1956, his father moved the family from Minnesota to Oregon in search of a better job.

"Coos Bay was the world's largest lumber shipping port," Garland said. "Our family moved to Coos Bay to have a better life than the dirt-poor farmer in the Midwest. My whole family worked in the woods. My brother was a sawmill foreman at Weyerhaeuser."

Garland was the first in his family to attend college; his father had a sixth-grade education.

At OSU, he met his future wife, Pam. He recalls of his first meetings with her: "I was just taken."

Pam, however, was not impressed.

"I snubbed him and snubbed him and snubbed him," she said. She thought he was a rich fraternity boy because he drove a shiny red Camaro. Besides, she said, "I wasn't looking for a guy. I was looking to go to college."

Pam relented once she discovered that he was a hard worker and a member of the Army ROTC who'd earned the money to buy that Camaro in the woods of Coos Bay.

Pam bought her husband his trademark hat. "I got it for him for Christmas. He was always getting a wet head (working in the forest), so I got him a hat," his wife said.

A professor at OSU for 33 years, Garland has been a technical adviser to several History Channel shows, including "Suicide Missions: Timber!" and more recently, "Ax Men," a reality TV show about loggers. Garland is a safety expert, and he pointed out some issues with the logging practices portrayed on the show.

"They keep showing him (the logger) doing illegal things," Garland said. The logger used a dangerous practice called the domino method, using one falling tree to knock down another. "I had them remove my name. My reputation for safety wouldn't stand the juxtaposition."

An expert on logging accidents, Garland has consulted on more than 40 cases over the years.

"I was blackballed once by a company. When I found that circular saws can throw objects, the company disagreed. We won the court case." The company was required to recall their product to be retrofitted.

As a safety expert and forest engineer, Garland remains committed to and passionate about the industry and its future.

"Forestry is not a dying industry. It's a changing industry," Garland said. "It has a lot of future ahead of us. When the silicon forest in Portland crashed a couple years ago, we didn't say it was a dying industry. All the land we planted in the 1950s and '60s is ready to harvest now. There's no better material for housing. I think we'll see a resurgence."

He does have one concern about the future.

"One of the difficulties we're facing is we're losing our skilled work force," Garland said. "We can't find enough people to work in the woods. Over half the loggers in Oregon are over age 45."

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